Preparing for the worst: Evidence that older adults proactively downregulate negative affect Brittany Corbett, M Natasha Rajah, Audrey Duarte
Previous studies have only investigated age-related differences in emotional processing and encoding in response to, not in anticipation of, emotional stimuli. In the current study, we investigated age-related differences in the impact of emotional anticipation on affective responses and episodic memory for emotional images. Young and older adults were scanned while encoding negative and neutral images preceded by cues that were either valid or invalid predictors of image valence. Participants were asked to rate the emotional intensity of the images and to complete a recognition task. Using multivariate behavioral partial least squares (PLS) analysis, we found that greater anticipatory recruitment of the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and hippocampus in older adults predicted reduced memory for negative than neutral images and the opposite for young adults. Seed PLS analysis further showed that following negative cues older adults, but not young adults, exhibited greater activation of vmPFC, reduced activation of amygdala, and worse memory for negative compared with neutral images. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to provide evidence that the “positivity effect” seen in older adults’ memory performance may be related to the spontaneous emotional suppression of negative affect in anticipation of, not just in response to, negative stimuli.